The fear that we may lose touch with the concrete artistry in our industry is a legitimate feeling. It seems like more and more projects require firm decisions and designs before they ever reach our eyes. Are we losing the chance to add our expertise, advice and artistic touch to decorative projects?
We are at a crossroads right now as an industry. As the economy bubbles back up, it’s easy to get swept away by mountains of bid invites and specification requests, leaving your passion buried under paperwork. But I encourage you to step back. Brush off the cobwebs and pursue those artistic projects.
I know many of us are hungry for any projects that may surface right now and we want to chase those while the getting is good. Although basic projects are important for keeping employees and vendors paid and happy, they are not what set us apart from the curb-and-gutter contractor down the road.
What sets us apart is the “decorative” aspect of our industry. We aren’t just concrete contractors; we’re decorative concrete artisans. We are individuals with passion, vision and innovativeness. But maybe it has been awhile since you pursued your passion because the economic downturn chopped the word “decorative” out of most budgets.
A few techniques work for us when pursuing the next decorative project:
- Ooze with excitement for decorative concrete.
- Educate others about the possibilities.
- Befriend the design community.
- Prove your skills.
- Open your mouth.
- Collaborate with your friends and colleagues.
Ooze with excitement for decorative concrete
This may sound silly, but it’s proven successful time and time again. When I’m excited about pretty concrete, other people get excited about it, too. They may roll their eyes or think you’re crazy to get that excited about something as boring as concrete. Until, of course, they see why.
Educate others about the possibilities
Often the only option for reaching designers or municipalities is through a good old-fashioned lunch-and-learn presentation. Attendees often have low expectations for the presentation and aren’t even sure who’s there to talk to them that day.
If you are oozing excitement about what you’re sharing, chances are, you can convey that excitement to them. You want to leave them feeling they got something valuable from your presentation. Ideally, your presentation sparks their imagination and they already have something in mind they want to chat with you about.
Befriend the design community
Once you’ve shown the design community the possibilities, it’s time to befriend them. I don’t mean golfing dates and buying drinks (although if that’s your style, have at it). I mean talking to and listening to them. It goes hand-in-hand with educating them. If you allow them room to use their imagination and embrace their design capabilities, chances are, they will come up with something even more amazing.
It is the architects and landscape architects who push our industry every day. They help us with our creativity and innovation. As a member of their team, true innovation and creativity can flourish. Once you see their vision and can help them make it a reality, you will have a friend and client for life. Plus your portfolio will look pretty nice, too.
Prove your mad skills
You may be a fantastic sales person who can sell sand to a desert dweller. What should set you apart, though, is that you and your company actually follow-through and perform the spectacular projects.
I wouldn’t be able to sell a thing if we did not have the amazing crews to back me up with passion and extraordinary skills in the field. Being the problem solver, assisting the designer and giving them a decorative concrete project they can be proud of will get them to call you on the next project, too.
Open your big mouth
Sometimes there are possibilities to enhance concrete on projects you already have. I’m not one for upselling, but I think it’s important to listen to designers and owners. If they express a concern or desire, which you can help them on, by all means, speak up!
Being shy with your ideas will not get you very far in this industry. This can come at many stages. Even when the general contractor mentions those dreaded “value engineering” words, it’s an opportunity for you to help solve a problem and still meet design intent.
This usually requires thinking beyond the traditional solutions of cutting back on color or design. Perhaps it means taking out an entire sidewalk in order to better emphasize the owner’s main entry, where the dollars count more. Or perhaps it means looking at other finishes on the site and providing an alternate.
It goes back to educating others, befriending them and proving your mad skills. By earning the trust of all members of the team in each of those stages, you will be on their must-call list when the next decorative concrete project rolls around.
Collaborate with your friends and colleagues
Utilize the strength of our industry and get involved. We are a crazy, passionate and knowledgeable group. Reach out to your friends and colleagues! I’ve found great value in collaborating with like-minded individuals through the Bomanite organization and the Decorative Concrete Council through the American Society of Concrete Contractors.
Find your inspiration by reading this magazine regularly and joining an organized association. Join local chapters of groups such as the American Society of Landscape Architects, the American Institute of Architects or the American Society of Interior Designers. The key to each of these organizations is the friendships and collaboration opportunities within them. The association is only as valuable as what you are willing to put into it, but the reward is great.
I’m excited to see the changes in our industry over the next 10 years. As a team we are slated for great innovation and design. Let your creativity and passion for decorative concrete be contagious and spread through your projects and the design community.
Karen Van Heukelem wears many hats at Denver-based Colorado Hardscapes Inc., including business development, marketing, sales, estimating and project management, with an emphasis on specialty rock construction. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.